Proposal to add high-density housing to Littleton’s Aspen Grove headed for city-wide vote

Petition highlights public rebuke of rezoning plans

Robert Tann
rtann@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/2/22

A proposal to rezone southwest Littleton’s Aspen Grove shopping center for high-density, mixed-use housing is headed to a city-wide vote after  residents petitioned to hold a referendum.

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Proposal to add high-density housing to Littleton’s Aspen Grove headed for city-wide vote

Petition highlights public rebuke of rezoning plans

Posted

A proposal to rezone southwest Littleton’s Aspen Grove shopping center for high-density, mixed-use housing is headed to a city-wide vote after residents petitioned to hold a referendum on the redevelopment plans. 

The move spells the latest development in a months-long saga dating back to at least March 2021, when the mall’s owner, the Gerrity Group, first announced plans to overhaul the area. After a heated public hearing in October, during which residents packed the council chamber to speak for and against the proposal, city council narrowly voted 4-3 in November to approve the plans. 

But thousands of residents pushed back, circulating a petition that garnered more than 4,200 signatures, 3,729 of which were found to be valid by the city clerk’s office . 

“I canvassed for the citizens' petition and talked to a lot of people,” said Lynn Christensen, who lives in Littleton’s northeast District 3, during a public comment portion of the Feb. 1 council meeting. “I can count on one hand the number of people who would not sign the petition.”

With the signatures exceeding the required threshold of 3,588, council members were forced during the meeting to either rescind the rezoning or punt it to an election, ultimately landing on the latter. 

“This issue should go to the citizens,” said District 2 Councilmember Jerry Valdes, who in January told Colorado Community Media he had signed the petition. “I think the citizens can make informed decisions after they study the facts.”

Valdes was one of four councilmembers at the time who voted to approve the plans. 

The petition’s success highlights the contention many residents feel over high-density housing, which they said would worsen traffic congestion and possibly affect neighbouring open spaces. Gerrity’s proposal included a reduction in the shopping center's commercial space, from roughly 268,000 square feet to a minimum of 125,000, to accommodate for up to 2,000 new residential units. It would have also increased some building heights to a maximum of 85 feet, something residents also rebuked. 

The rezoning proposal came as Aspen Grove continued to weather years of declining sales tax revenue that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding new housing was seen as a bid by the developers and some councilmembers as a way to bolster the area’s economic activity. 

But several residents said a reduction in commercial space would do the opposite. 

“Citizens said no to 2,000 units and a 50% decrease in commercial space,” Christensen said. 

Pam Chadbourne, who lives in northwest Littleton’s District 1, said the reduction in commercial space should be a non-starter for this council.” 

“We should value and nourish a vibrant commercial environment in the city, not sacrifice commercial to residential,” she said. 

Chadbourne also said if the city were to rezone an area for residential, it should include a mandatory amount of below-market-rate affordable housing, which Gerrity’s proposal currently does not. 

Though most councilmembers voiced an openness to letting city residents ultimately decide the mall’s fate, some implied that there may be misinformation about the concept, though they did not specify what they meant. 

“There’s some stuff out there that maybe isn’t as factual as it should be,” Valdes said. 

District 4 Councilmember Kelly Milliman, whose southwest district is home to Aspen Grove, said Gerrity should be given an opportunity to make another case for the rezoning before an election is held. 

“I know that there were some mistruths or misleading information to some folks that signed this petition,” she said. 

Newer councilmembers who were not part of the November vote to approve the plans said they supported letting the citizens decide. 

“People want to hear what the citizens want to think, and I think it’s our job to put that forward,” said Stephen Barr, councilmember for southeast Littleton’s District 3. 

Councilmembers signaled that they supported holding an election on Nov. 8 in an effort to coordinate with the county during the 2022 midterms. This would cost the city around $20,000 to $26,000, according to City Clerk Colleen Norton. If the city chooses to host its own special election at a different time, it could cost as much as $65,000, Norton said. 

“Forty thousand dollars as a difference, I have more ideas for where to spend that money,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gretchen Rydin, councilmember at-large. “To be fiscally responsible is important here to consider.”

aspen grove, gerrity group, Littleton City Council, high-density, mixed-use

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